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Voters are casting their ballots today in South Carolina, the last of the first major states to elect a Republican presidential candidate before Super Tuesday.

Former President Donald Trump has maintained a consistent and commanding lead in the polls, while the state’s former governor, Nikki Haley, will try to prove that she is a viable candidate with a competitive performance.

He will need to win at least Charleston and Richland to clear that bar, while Trump will look to sweep the rest of the state.

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Greenville and Spartanburg are battlegrounds to watch

Two counties in upstate South Carolina, Greenville and Spartanburg, account for approximately 16% of the state’s registered voter population.

Nikki Haley and Donald Trump

Former South Carolina Governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and former President Donald Trump. (Getty Images)

Like the region as a whole, these two counties are also predominantly white and evangelical.

As we saw in Iowa, these voters favor Trump by wide margins, and the latest polls in South Carolina suggest they will vote similarly here today.

When Trump first ran for president in 2016, he had two major competitors in the Palmetto State: Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Both candidates put up a serious fight in these two counties. In Greenville, they each got 24.5% of the vote; Trump won overall with 26.7%.


Cruz, who courted the evangelical vote throughout his campaign, received 24.5% in Spartanburg, while Rubio received 22.9%. Trump won with 32.6%.

Recent primary and poll results suggest that most Cruz voters have found a new home with Trump.

Therefore, to win the state, Trump will look to take home at least a similar share of votes in the northern region of the state as the combined share he and Cruz took in 2016. For a performance in line with polling expectations , and with everyone else being equal, you’ll be looking for something in the 65-75% area.

With such an evangelical bent, Haley isn’t likely to be very competitive here.

Charleston and Richland should be more favorable to Haley than other parts of the state.

Consistent with her strategy in New Hampshire, Haley will seek to win in densely populated urban and suburban areas.

Charleston and Richland, which account for about 16% of the overall vote statewide, top the list.

Charleston County is home to the city of the same name, which is also the most populous city in the state. Richland County contains Columbia, the state capital and home of the University of South Carolina.

In 2016, these were the only counties where Rubio barely eked out a victory.

They are also wealthier than most other parts of the state and have more voters with college degrees; two of Haley’s key constituencies.

Polls show Haley trailing Trump but remains competitive in these cities. The former governor of her hometown will have to do better to make this a race.

The better Haley does in these areas, the better the chances that Haley will leave South Carolina with at least some delegates. This is because, in addition to 29 delegates at the state level, the state awards three delegates to the winner of the vote in each of its seven congressional districts.

Nikki Haley and Donald Trump

Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley is running against former President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination. Trump is running for a second term despite facing multiple legal fronts. (Getty Images)

Trump continues to dominate in rural areas

Some of Trump’s best performances in the 2016 Republican primary came from very small rural counties.

He received more than 40% of the vote in 13 counties, ten of which had populations of less than 50,000 people.


Look at places like Lee County in central South Carolina, where Trump took 47% of the vote, beating his closest rival, Cruz, by 25 points. Lee County’s population is about 16,000 people and declining.

Head south to Allendale County, home to fewer than 8,000 South Carolinians. Trump received 44% there, beating second-place candidate Rubio by 19 points. Its population is also declining.

He received between 30% and 40% of the vote in 27 other counties, about half of which had populations of less than 50,000.

And that was in a race with two popular rivals, at a time when Trump had yet to persuade the base that he had the right conservative credentials.

Collectively, these rural areas represent a powerful share of the overall state vote in South Carolina.


To win, Trump will seek to get as many votes as possible.

Special coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on Fox News Channel

All polls close in South Carolina at 7 pm ET. Expect to see reported early voting first in most areas; that vote will likely favor Haley.

Special coverage on Fox News Channel also begins at 7, hosted by Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum.

Stay tuned for insights from our best Fox News voter analysis and the Fox News Decision Desk, which will call this race.

By Sam